Well, at least this time, Don Lemon isn’t in the headlines for losing a fight with his co-hosts or with CNN brass. Instead, he’s now making waves for losing a fight with a GOP presidential contender.
On Wednesday, Vivek Ramaswamy — a business executive and the author of “Woke Inc.” who’s hoping to become the 2024 conservative version of Andrew Yang — made a visit to “CNN This Morning.” The candidate and Lemon argued over whether the Civil War was fought to give blacks their constitutional rights, including the right to self-defense.
The TL;DR version of Ramaswamy’s case: The right to self-defense needed to be secured for blacks in the post-bellum South before other rights could be exercised, and the Second Amendment was a key vehicle of deterrence when it came to racial violence.
The TL;DR version of Lemon’s case: I’m black, so your “splaining” of the Civil War to me automatically loses unless you’re agreeing with me.
I know morning TV on CNN isn’t exactly a debate tournament — but if it were, Ramaswamy notched his first win of the 2024 campaign.
The dust-up began after Ramaswamy connected the Civil War and the period thereafter with extending gun rights to freed blacks, acidly referencing an infamous quote 2012 from then-Vice President Joe Biden. Ramaswamy said the Democratic Party wants to put black people “back in chains” with gun-control laws.
“The Civil War wasn’t fought for poor black people to have guns,” Lemon countered.
“Actually, you know, funny fact is, black people did not get to enjoy the other freedoms until their Second Amendment rights were secured,” Ramaswamy said. “And I think that that’s one of the lessons that–“
“But black people still aren’t allowed to enjoy the freedoms,” Lemon protested.
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“I disagree with you on that, Don. I disagree with that. And I think you’re doing a disservice to our country by failing to recognize the fact that we have …” Ramaswamy responded.
“When you are in black skin and then you live in this country. Then you can disagree with me, but we’re not. You mentioned there are three different shades of melanin here?” Lemon said.
“For you to compare it to 1865, and 1964 is actually — I think it’s insulting to black people. It’s insulting to me as an African-American, I don’t want to sit here and argue with you because it’s infuriating for you to put that to put those things together. It’s not right. Your telling of history is wrong.”
Ramaswamy then asked what part of his history was wrong.
“The Civil War was fought. You’re making people think that the Civil War was fought for black people, only for black people to get guns. And for black people to–” Lemon said.
“A civil war was fought for black people in this country to get freedoms, a noble mission,” Ramaswamy countered. “And I think that even after we succeeded, we had to actually secure those freedoms.”
After a bit of back-and-forth which mostly included Lemon saying he was insulted and calling Ramaswamy’s argument reductive, he apparently had enough of his producers telling him something — which I’m assuming wasn’t, “Keep it up, Don, you’re doing superbly!”
“Please. I cannot keep a thought if you guys are talking in my ear. So hang on one second,” Lemon said, addressing his producers and taking his earpiece out. “So, to say that that black people — say what you said again?”
“Black people secured their freedoms after the Civil War — it is a historical fact, Don, just study it — only after their Second Amendment rights were secured,” Ramaswamy said.
With Lemon sans earpiece, the two then argued over the role the Second Amendment played in securing freedoms in the South and the role the National Rifle Association played in training blacks to use firearms.
Then, it just devolved into Lemon petulantly circling back to his race, and did you remember that he’s black? Because he’s black. And he’s going to tell you he’s black, which is why he’s right about anything involving black people.
Here’s the debate in full:
Now, it’s worth noting that the role of the NRA in training black gun owners in the South after the Civil War is a matter of much contention, with fact-checkers like The Associated Press contending there’s not much evidence to support that theory despite the organization being founded by former Union officers; the NRA says its founders were “men who were deeply committed to ending the vestiges of slavery and to seeking equal rights for all.”
However, as conservative writer Robert Verbuggen noted in a 2010 piece for National Review, it’s not a matter of debate that it was “gun-control laws [in the post-Civil War South] — along with other laws that violated virtually every right blacks had — that led to the Fourteenth Amendment, which authorized the federal government to ensure that state and local governments respected citizens’ rights.”
“The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866, passed just two years before the amendment was approved, made it clear that the right to keep and bear arms was an important right for freed blacks to have: ‘The right . . . to have full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings concerning personal liberty, personal security, and the acquisition, enjoyment, and disposition of estate, real and personal, including the constitutional right to bear arms, shall be secured to and enjoyed by all the citizens . . . without respect to race or color, or previous condition of slavery.’ Advocates of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 cited the disarmament of freed blacks as a reason the law was necessary,” Verbuggen noted.
“These laws, however, didn’t work. Southern governments refused to enforce them, and the Supreme Court — which was far less powerful then than it is today, anyhow — did not intervene,” he continued.
“To drive the point home that the South had to respect blacks’ rights, including the right to bear arms, Republicans in Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment (they had the numbers to do this because they had refused to seat the Democrats the South had elected, many of whom were former Confederate soldiers), sent it to the states for ratification, put the former Confederate states under martial law via the Reconstruction Acts, and made their ratifying the amendment a condition of ending military rule.”
Which, as Ramaswamy said on Twitter, was the point he was making. He also noted the irony of Lemon’s filibustering on set.
“The remarkable thing is that this guy, without knowing an iota of history about what actually led black Americans to get freedoms, is now lecturing about the fact that somebody — if they’re not black — can’t talk about that history,” Ramaswamy said.
“Claiming that black people haven’t had their civil rights secured even today — as he sits on air dominating the conversation from his co-anchor in a way that was pretty uncomfortable, actually,” he added.
.@donlemon should actually study civil rights history before spouting off about it. Shouting down ideas you don’t like & restricting what you can say based on your skin color won’t bring us together. Open debate will. I’ll keep going on any network to debate the other side &… pic.twitter.com/P67ScBDAhO
— Vivek Ramaswamy (@VivekGRamaswamy) April 19, 2023
As you may perhaps have heard if you follow the career of Don Lemon — and I know that’s not many of you — the CNN anchor is more famous these days for his reportedly fractious relationship with his co-hosts than for anything substantive.
Whatever the case, the appearance certainly earned Ramaswamy some plaudits from conservatives on Twitter:
Loved you on CNN this am! 💯 Don Lemon loves to preach/play the ‘Victim Mindset’. Vivek for PRESIDENT.
— VENUS (@Vanessa04428061) April 19, 2023
I like watching Vivek Ramaswamy argue with Don Lemon on CNN
— Clara Jones (@debbieformola) April 19, 2023
Don Lemon is the epitome of victimhood when he is the farthest from a victim. Learn from Vivek, Don! He succeeded through hard work and he never claims victim for HIS skin color! You might gain more fans if you are actually truthful on the air!
— Florida is where Woke goes to die! (@azmaga123) April 19, 2023
This is common practice from activist journalists like Don Lemon who immediately pull the race card when they can’t sustain an argument. Dunno but Vivek’ asking color is similar to Don’s! And he’s right, let’s discuss issues not skin color!
— 🇺🇸🇵🇷Dania Alexandrino🇺🇸🇵🇷 (@DaniaPeriodista) April 19, 2023
Granted, Ramaswamy has yet to make serious waves in the polls. According to RealClearPolitcs‘ polling average, he sits at 1 percent, which is behind someone who has declared he’s not running (Mike Pompeo, 1.4 percent) and a career NeverTrumper we perfervidly hope declares she’s running just because of the hours of unintentional comedy it will create (Liz Cheney, 4.0 percent).
That said, I give Ramaswamy this much: I’d give him better odds of staying in the GOP race longer than Don Lemon stays at CNN.